Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Amazing Word Order in 1 John 1:5

Hey folks! Check this out. We discussed it in Greek class yesterday and it is crazy interesting. 

This is 1 John 1:5b, and is normally rendered something like "and there is no darkness in him at all." But the Greek reveals an emphasis that can be easily missed in English. 

A literal rendering of the Greek would be: "and darkness in him not is no/none." Technically, "darkness" and "no/none" belong together. "No/none" is an adjective that modifies the noun "darkness." Sorry to trouble you with all this grammar, but it's necessary. 

Here's what I find so interesting about this construction. In the Synoptic Gospels and Acts, the adjective "no/none" almost always precedes the noun it modifies. In Paul, it always does. But in John's writings, the adjective can come before or after the noun. Here are a few examples of what I'm talking about. 

Now let's return for a moment to my first picture:

When the adjective "no/none" is separated from its noun by four words, emphasis is clearly indicated. The idea is "none at all" or "none whatsoever." The NIV attempts to capture this nuance with the words "in him there is no darkness at all." The CSB, I think, does a better job: "there is absolutely no darkness in him." Eugene Peterson (The Message) writes, "no shade of darkness can exist in him." But none of these renderings seem strong enough to me. So I might render John's words as follows: "there is not the slightest trace of darkness in him." Do you like this? If you do, I can claim no credit for it because I got it from the New Geneva Translation: "bei ihm gibt es nicht die geringste Spur von Finsternis." Perfect! By the way, my Hebrew New Testament has an interesting wording: "there is not in him all darkness." Love it!

There are obviously many other ways to translate John's words here. What matters is that we take the original languages very seriously. Nothing is there by accident. And remember: exegesis is nothing more than a means of discovering what the text is staying. It's a tool, a way of owning a text. I'm a firm believer in the value of paying close attention to word order. You say, "I don't know Greek, so how in the world I am supposed to be able to do this?" It's very simple. Go to a website like Bible Hub. In addition to providing many different English translations of 1 John 1:5, it will show you the Greek word order with an accompanying English translation. Try it. You might like it! 

In short, if you want to stir up the embers of your imagination, try to consult a resource like Bible Hub when you are studying a passage of Scripture. The idea here is to do whatever it takes to see the words of Scripture from a different perspective. If we always read the Bible from only one English translation, we run the risk of making Bible study into a routine exercise with little excitement. I think 1 John 1:5 is a brilliant example of prayerful Bible study. Imagine if Christians today approached the word of God in this manner!